PONDERING THE PARASHA: PARASHAT NOAH

פרשת נח

By Bet Midrash Member Jennifer Salzman

In the beginning of this week’s parasha, Parashat Noah, when Hashem tells Noah that He was going to destroy the world and all of its inhabitants, Noah remained silent. He accepted the will of Hashem and acted in accordance with what he was instructed to do. He did not question. He did not pray. He did not challenge G-d. 

Two other characters in Tanach were put in a similar position to Noah—Avraham and Moshe. All three of them were told by Hashem that He wanted to destroy a people. In Parashat Vayera (Bereshit 18:20-25), Hashem tells Avraham that he plans to destroy the people of Sodom. In contrast to Noah, Avraham immediately responds by challenging Hashem. He asks וַיִּגַּשׁ אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמַר הַאַף תִּסְפֶּה צַדִּיק עִם־רָשָׁע׃…הֲשֹׁפֵט כָּל־הָאָרֶץ לֹא יַעֲשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט׃—Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?… Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly? Avraham does not just accept the will of Hashem, he advocates for and defends the people even though their values do not align with his. Avraham taps into the attributes that Hashem himself embodies, and calls upon Hashem to stand by them and act mercifully. 

Additionally, in Parashat Ki Tisa (Shemot 32:7-13), after the sin of the golden calf, Hashem tells Moshe that He is going to destroy the nation and create a new nation from Moshe. Moshe counters this by stating that if this is the case, he wants to be erased from the book of Hashem. He asks Hashem to remember the promise that He made to our forefathers, a promise for their children to be numerous and inhabit the land of Israel. In this moment, Moshe challenges Hashem, reminding Him that He has a responsibility to be a קל רחום וחנון, to forgive His people, and fulfill His promise. Moshe, too, utilizes the values of Hashem in order to persuade Him to act in accordance with His own merciful ways.

Now, we are left to reflect on two completely different approaches in how we might respond to Hashem during times of major life (and death) challenges. One, Noah’s, is passive, accepting, obedient, and silent. The other, Avraham and Moshe’s, is active, challenging, assertive, and inquisitive. By comparing the various descriptions attributed to each one of these individuals, we can gain a powerful insight into how we should respond to challenging events that might occur in our own lives. 

The Parasha begins with Noah being described as אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹרֹתָיו, a righteous man in his generation. Rashi, when commenting on the word בְּדֹרֹתָיו, notes that had he been living in the time of Avraham, he would not have been regarded as a tzadik. This description starkly contrasts Avraham who is described by G-d as אַב הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם. He is a person who we aspire to emulate in his actions and faithfulness in Hashem, every day. Additionally, when speaking of Moshe, Hashem says, וְלֹא־קָם נָבִיא עוֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּמֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוֹ ה׳ פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים׃—Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom ה׳ singled out, face to face. Avraham and Moshe were the ones who challenged Hashem, and yet they are the ones who transcend time as a symbol and inspiration for our nation, whereas Noah, who was silent and obedient, maintains his status only in his time. Avraham and Moshe advocated for the people, against the will of G-d, they asked questions, they took on responsibility and prayed for the people, they challenged G-d. Noah did not step up to the plate. 

This lesson is not one relegated only to people who are blessed with being able to have dialogues with Hashem. In our own lives, we must internalize this lesson. We must remember that through asking challenging questions, digging deeper into certain concepts and ideas, and inquiring, even when no one else is, allows us to connect to Hashem and to the Torah in a real, meaningful, personal, and long lasting way. Questioning prompts us to search for answers, to learn, and ultimately connect to G-d in the most genuine way. We have a right to challenge, ask questions, and pray to Hashem—if we do this appropriately we should all merit to be able to gain a deeper understanding of Hashem and create a sincere and life long relationship with Him.

Jennifer Salzman went to the Yeshivah of Flatbush Elementary and High School where she created relationships with teachers and rabbis that inspired her to become the person she is today. Although she was not able to attend seminary in Israel for the year, her passion for Torah and love of Judaism has only grown as she takes advantage of the learning opportunities that are available here. Jennifer truly enjoys learning Torah, musar, and halacha with her friends, family, and mentors, and she hopes to continue learning, growing, and connecting with Hashem each and every day.